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Friday, March 12, 2010
Dalrymple has an excellent and astute column on the "corruption of language" which can be gathered by everyday observation; in this case, from an employment ad for Planned Parenthood.
An advertisement in a recent edition of the British Medical Journal caught my eye. It was for a Senior Adviser, Access, placed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, one of those many organisations that live and breathe and take their being in the large no man's land between government and charity.
It was the beginning of the final paragraph that did so, the first sentence being the only one in the whole advertisement to be in heavy type:
Applications are particularly welcome from candidates openly living with AIDS/HIV.
The next sentence read:
IPPF is committed to equal opportunities and cultural diversity.
It would, of course, take an entire book to uncover all the layers of deceit, moral cowardice and double or multiple standards contained in these words. I can make only a beginning.
What is a person "openly living with HIV/AIDS?" Does it mean someone not only infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS, but trumpeting it abroad? Or can it in include someone living with a person of that description, and trumpeting it abroad?
Let us assume that the first of these meanings is the one that is meant. There is surely something very peculiar about the particular welcome to be given by the IPPF to such people, not because one wishes such people any harm, but because one does not see anything particularly virtuous or worthy of particular welcome in their affliction. Is it the openness that is particularly welcomed, or the HIV/AIDS, or the combination of the two? That is to say, if a person kept the fact that he had HIV/AIDS to himself, would he not be a particularly welcome applicant?
So why... do we never see an advertisement particularly welcoming applicants living with syphilis/general paralysis of the insane, or cancer/secondaries, or hepatitis C/hepatoma, or any number of others that one could think of?
The fact is that the advertisement demands doublethink of us: that we accept simultaneously that AIDS is just one disease among others on the one hand, and that it is completely and categorically different on the other. We are expected, in most cases rightly, to perform this mental operation without even noticing it. And we do so, because we are accustomed to doing so.
Let us now turn briefly to the weasel word "particularly", or "particularly welcome". What does it actually mean? How particular is the "particular" of particularly welcome? What effect on the final choice of candidate for the job will the particular welcome have? If it has none, why include it in the advertisement? In what sense, then, is the welcome particular? Extra tea and biscuits?
On the other hand, if it has some actual effect on the choice, in what sense can the IPPF then claim to be an equal opportunity employer? That all opportunities are equal, but some are more equal than others?
Whatever sense (not much, outside of apartheid states) can be given to the term "Equal opportunity employer", it surely cannot mean the giving of what amounts to sheltered employment to people with certain favoured or designated diseases.
Let us briefly consider cultural diversity from another angle. What it means in this context, I think, is "Anyone from anywhere, provided that he or she accepts our ideas". It cannot really mean anything else, because the successful candidate is supposed to have, in addition to the other qualities I have mentioned, "a sound understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights, research and evidence based programmes".
I am no anthropologist, but I do not think it is necessary to be one to know that "sexual and reproductive rights" (of which the IPPF calls itself "a leading advocate") are not, and never have been, human universals, recognised in all times and all places by all cultures. Let us suppose that we uttered the phrase "sexual and reproductive rights" to David Hume (let alone Genghis Khan): what would it mean to him?
This is not to say that I am against such rights: only to point out that you cannot advocate them and fail to discriminate against people, quite likely of another culture, who do not recognise them.
So the advertisement placed in the BMJ by the IPPF is a typical modern utterance of a certain kind: one that wishes to convey virtue without the difficult work of actually being virtuous. It has the moral seriousness of Messrs Podsnap and Veneering in Our Mutual Friend. It would be just as amusing as that fiction, if it were not rather a symptom of a deep malaise in our culture: the corruption of language.